Posts Tagged ‘cellphone’

The Speed of Sci-Fi, Revisited


In 2007, I wrote a book. In 2010, I finished editing it*. Either this year or next, it’s going to be published**.

This is not a post about book contracts.

It’s a post about technology.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about how fast data storage technology is expanding. My example was my USB drive, which holds eight hundred times as much data in something the size of my finger than my very first hard drive, which was about the size of half a frozen dinner.

This morning, I was catching up on my news feeds and I found another technological change that struck me.

You may already know that BlackBerry — once the bastion of corporate offices and enterprise e-mail systems everywhere — has recently been on the ropes. Their tablet wasn’t perfect when it came out, and you have to be perfect to compete with the iPad. Their first touch-screen phone wasn’t so great either. They don’t have an app store with even close to the number of offerings that Android and Apple do. And — let’s be honest here — BlackBerry devices just aren’t cool.

This is very close to the BlackBerry I used to have, except mine had more soft-keys.
That’s now. In 2012. But in 2006, I got my first (and only) BlackBerry, and it was awesome. It was the precursor to the Pearl, the first one with a narrow keyboard, and I thought it was the best phone I’d ever have. I could text, e-mail, surf the web (in a limited fashion), read stories online, play games, use personalized ringtones and message sounds, and, well, if I wasn’t able to take pictures, that wasn’t a big deal, because I had a camera already, right?

In early 2007, I started writing a novel (as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago). Because my main character was kind of a tech-geek, I made sure she carried a BlackBerry and knew how to use it. I don’t know which one it was, but I’m sure it was a good one. It may even have been the one I had. The point is, by the time I finished the book in the summer of 2007, BlackBerry was still the standard by which I judged phones. Anyone who was anyone had a BlackBerry.

Of course, the iPhone happened shortly after that, and that was most definitely a game-changer.

Between the end of the writing period for the book and the time it’ll be released to the public, I’ll have gone through five cellphones. Five cellphones in five years.

  • My aforementioned BlackBerry.
  • The HTC Tilt/TyTn II, a monster phone that I would’ve kept if it hadn’t started crashing on me all the time.
  • An iPhone 3G.
  • A short-lived Samsung BlackJack — a capable enough device, intended to be a BlackBerry replacement, it was given to me at my old job. I didn’t think I needed it, since I already had an iPhone, but they wouldn’t pay for it so I had to carry two phones.
  • My HTC Evo, which I wrote about a year or so ago.

I’m writing another book right now, and my main character has a touchscreen device — either an iPhone or an Android; I’m not sure which. The point is, I’m being a little more vague because (a) I don’t know when I’m going to finish writing this book and (b) I don’t know when it’s going to be sold once I do. I like to be as accurate as possible when I write, which is why Sarah (in the 2007 book) had a BlackBerry, and which is also why Andrea (in the current book) rides very specific bus routes to get around town. I believe little details make a story better — not too many of them, but enough to let the reader know that the author really put some thought into every aspect of the story. Get the small details right, and people in general will believe you if you fudge the big ones***.

But I’m still amazed that, only five years after finishing the book, the device that I gave my main character because it was so freaking cool is now so out-of-date that literally only one person on my entire floor here at work actually has one.

Technology is moving faster than ever. We writers have to keep up with it.

Somehow.

#

* I know, I know. It took me way too long.

** The contract is in my e-mail box. I’m reviewing it with my attorney, just to make sure it’s 100 percent aboveboard.

*** Story of my life.

It can’t beam me up. Yet.


About a month ago, a mishap at the gym resulted in my iPhone being broken beyond repair. I was out of contract, so the field was wide open, and after some short deliberations I decided on a HTC Evo. My justifications were this:

  1. Everything I did via jailbreak on my iPhone is done natively on the Evo.
  2. If I buy an iPhone 4 now, I’m going to be kicking myself when the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4S) is announced in April, or May, or whenever His Steveness decides it’s time to drum up media support again.
  3. My company offered a pretty deep discount on accessories and plans if I chose the Evo over, say, the Droid or iPhone.

I’m pretty happy with my purchase. My phone does… well… almost everything a Star Trek communicator* can do. And more besides.

Voice:

Communicator: Calls the ship, or other people in the landing party, at the touch of a button. Just say what you want. With the appropriate relays (ships, subspace substations, etc), you can call anyone. However, if you really want to talk to someone on Dytallix-B, you have to be on the ship and using a more powerful comm system.
Evo: Calls anyone I want. I can use voice-dial if I really want to, but I don’t. I still type in the phone numbers or pick people off the contact list. But I can call anyone in the world (since we haven’t gotten to the rest of the galaxy yet, I’m going with world here) via direct-dial, as long as I’m willing to pay roaming charges.
Advantage: Evo

Durability/Security:

Communicator: Attached to a Starfleet Officer’s shirt, a commbadge can be easily removed or even knocked away. They’re relatively hard to destroy just by dropping or stomping upon, but you can certainly lose it pretty easily. At least you can just get a new one from ship’s stores without having to worry about your contract, or who your carrier is.
Evo: If I drop the Evo, it’ll probably break (I have a case, but it’s not a hard case; it just protects the glass screen and camera). If I stomp on the Evo, it’ll probably break. But unless I’m really careless, it won’t fall out of my pocket or get lost if a giant alien throws me through the wall. Plus, no one knows I have it unless it rings in my pocket.
Advantage: Tie

Audio:

Communicator: The only sounds it makes are: nothing (when it’s dead), a repeated busy-signal-like bipping when it’s jammed, or the high-pitched squiggly noise of a connection being opened. I’m not sure how to change the ringtones, or how to set it on silent, and if your mom calls while you’re in the middle of delicate treaty negotiations to ask if you can pick up some more Astro-roid Cream, there’s no ignore function.
Evo: Unlimited (except by SD card space) ringtones and messaging tones, an ignore button, easily drops to silent mode, and voicemail. Plus, if an agent of the Tal Shiar is approaching, you can hide it and set it on silent with a couple of touches. Or call for someone to beam you up. Either way.
Advantage: Evo

Non-Verbal Communication:

Communicator: I don’t think they have Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare in the 24th Century, but maybe it’s just because communicators can’t handle text updates. You could use your tricorder, but who wants to carry around multiple devices? And texting? Sometimes Ensign D’Sora doesn’t need to call Worf to tell him that the new torpedo launcher is ready, but if Worf wants to get the message she keyed into the console, he can’t do it on his commbadge, now can he?
Evo: If there’s a form of texting or social communication that this thing can’t do, I haven’t found it yet. And when my wife texts to let me know she’s ten minutes away, so put on my shoes and we’ll go out to eat, I don’t have to log into my computer to get the message.
Advantage: Evo

Personalization:

Communicator: Okay, look, I know it’s part of a uniform and you really don’t get a choice (unless you’re Captain Picard and you like wearing a gray shirt with a red jacket). But if you want an official Starfleet communicator, it has to look like everyone else’s. Sounds kind of iPhone-y, doesn’t it?
Evo: While all Evos also look the same, there’s a myriad of cases you can use to personalize the device. You can also change the wallpaper, install any apps you like, and even reprogram the device to behave in ways the creators certainly didn’t intend. Even if your company says “welcome aboard. Here’s an Evo. It’s your official work phone,” you can still go to Amazon or wherever and buy a cool case, or an extended battery, or one of those little cellphone fob thingies, or a Bluetooth headset.
Advantage: Evo

Privacy:

Communicator: That little thing’s got a pretty powerful speaker on it, and you can’t really adjust the volume (unless there’s a dial I’m not seeing, or a voice command no one’s used). When you’re on it, everyone knows you’re on it. At least it’s not a Zach Morris communicator (which is probably so big you have to strap it to your chest with a harness).
Evo: Incoming calls are heard through the device, or a headset of your choosing. It also has a fairly loud speakerphone, but you don’t have to use it to take calls.
Advantage: Evo

Battery Life:

Communicator: Pretty much infinite, as far as I know. I’ve never seen one die due to lack of battery power.
Evo: Mine runs out by 2pm. I have chargers everywhere, and a few spare batteries. If I want a stronger battery, I have to buy one.
Advantage: Communicator

Apps:

Communicator: None. Well, except for voice commands, but I think you have to tell your shuttlecraft that you want to use voice control beforehand. You can’t take pictures or video, you can’t use it as a GPS, you can’t scan for life-forms or see what other holoplays K’Chargan Son Of Krimazon has been in. You can translate any language in the universal translator’s language banks, which is a pretty big selling point… but most people don’t even leave the ship or the starbase. I mean, sure, Ensign Ricky in Maintenance has a communicator too, but how many away teams does Commander Riker invite him on?
Evo: The Evo does everything a 21st-century cell phone should be able to do, and the apps are limitless — if a programmer can code it, it can be done. Plus, Google has an on-the-fly translator app that handles pictures; it’s only a matter of time until they have one for audio as well.
Advantage: Evo

Face-to-Face Communication:

Communicator: Nope. Where would you point it, anyway? I’m pretty sure a tricorder can do it, in conjunction with a communicator, but that’s like carrying an iPad and a 3G hotspot and a phone all at the same time. That’s an awful lot for Keiko and Molly to carry on their camping trip to Andor just so Miles can see his daughter before bedtime.
Evo: I haven’t really gotten Qik to work well yet — I think it requires 4G-like speeds to be at its best — but I have facetimed with my dad using it. It’s not like when the captain is talking to Admiral Nechayev in the ready room, but we’re getting there.
Advantage: Evo

GPS:

Communicator: When you’re wearing it, the ship knows exactly where you are. But you can’t ask it to give you directions to the nearest Jumja Hut.
Evo: Turn-by-turn directions, multiple mapping applications, and you can be tracked by the internal GPS chip.
Advantage: Evo

So, in ten total categories, the Evo wins in eight, the Communicator in one, and they tied in one. The commbadge isn’t looking so great now, is it?

Look, I know that most of the stuff I’m talking about in this article didn’t exist in the 80s and 90s — cameraphones, social networking, texting, personalized GPS units, and apps. And I’ve written about how fast sci-fi has to change because actual technology is changing faster than ever these days. But I found it pretty amusing that, with only a couple of exceptions, my new cellphone (and, for the record, my old one, which was just an iPhone 3G that I’d had for more than two years) is a far better device than the Star Trek communicators of the TNG era.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell it to call the Enterprise and beam me up, but as Shatner once said, “I’m working on that.

For the record, I really wanted to call this post “I Beep My Communicator Back and Forth”, but it didn’t make any sense. Oh well. Also: no monetary compensation was received by anyone from Sprint or HTC. I just wrote this because I thought it was funny.

* For the sake of argument, I’m going with the TNG/DS9/VOY combadge units, rather than the pocket-comms of the TOS/ENT era. Also, except where noted, I’m sticking to what was shown on TV, because if you believe the novels, the little arrowheads can do almost anything.